What Is Cognitive Overload in Mobile User Experience?


What Is Cognitive Overload in Mobile User Experience?

In the study of cognitive psychology, cognitive load is defined as the amount of mental effort used in the working memory. A human brain can understand and process only a limited amount of data in a given period and only for a particular time frame. Cognitive load comprises of two different load sources

  • Intrinsic cognitive load: Indicates the inherent complexity of the function and is imposed while by learning the task
  • Extraneous cognitive load: Indicates the complexity that differs based on the manner the task is presented to the learners.

Any UX design ( user experience ) has some cognitive load for the customer to explore the app. Considering the limited capacity of the working memory, UX designer should maintain the cognitive load of an app below the safe threshold. Customers who are exposed to too much information in a chaotic way may miss out the main features leading to a possible misunderstanding of the entire interface.


A user experience includes a lot of factors such as the user’s psychological responses, emotions, reactions, and perceptions while interacting with the interface. The amount of energy,  users, needs to spend to understand and complete their respective task is a key factor in determining the overall user experience.

A minimum amount of cognitive load is inevitable in any app. Users have to spend at least some energy to navigate through any app. A minimalistic cognitive overload without the addition of any elements which make the overall web experience complex to comprehend enhances the user’s experience. It is very critical for any UX designer to find the right balance by which customers can discover the app hassle free without losing vital information.

Google’s search engine home page can be taken as the perfect example when it comes to the provision of only the necessary elements required for the customers to reach their goal. Features and services which are unrelated to the basic search remain concealed and won’t be shown unless prompted by the user.

What causes cognitive overload?

Irrelevant actions

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time “ -Leo Tolstoy

Any user’s motive would be completely objective oriented. It is highly important not to test the users’ patience and waste their time with unnecessary steps and tasks.

Too much content

A user should not be bombarded with a lot of information at a time. Exposing users to excessive content makes it difficult to the human brain to comprehend and analyze. Too much content increases the cognitive load of the users drastically resulting in a loss of interest.

Too many choices

Even though it sounds good to offer a user with various options and choices, Making users to choose continuously can result in indecisiveness.It is important to consider the Hick’s law which states that as the number of choices increases, the time required to make a decision also increases.

Inconsistency in formats

Grammatical mistakes, incorrect formats of content throughout the interface and typos distract users from reaching their respective goal and makes it hard to communicate your mistake.

Lack of clarity

Lack a clear, concise and straightforward interface can add to the complexity of mobile user experience and wastes the customer’s time.

Some effective methods to minimize Cognitive Load

Inducing familiarity in the interface

UI designers should understand the mind of their customer persona and design the app accordingly.For example, Most users have registered certain regular web customs such as a remember me checkbox around the sign in button, etc. If this box is placed anywhere else, even the most tech-savvy users get confused resulting in a loss of trust and overall satisfaction.

Proper organization of content

It is highly important to sort all the required content into the right formats of communication and to share it at the right time. Adding too many images, animations, and flashy fonts when it is unnecessary add to the visual clutter of the interface.This disorganized format distracts users from their main goal. It is very crucial to de-clutter the content to convey the main message. Diversifying the content can help in maintaining the balance.

Stick to a simple design

In mobile design, it is significant to keep the patterns simple and easy to understand. Engaging audience through mobile requires a minimal design. Adding extravagant designs and other flamboyant oculars which don’t contribute to the client’s primary purpose can produce damaging results.

Chunking the content

Segregating the text, multimedia content into smaller forms can improve the readability and accessibility for the user. The better readability an app provides, the better would be the level of consumption of the information. Breaking up the content into various sections based on their relevance and type would make it less imposing on the customer.

Careful Usage of Icons

Even the most tech-savvy users get perplexed with unclear and ambiguous icons and symbols. Deciphering what an icon stands for adds to the cognitive load of the person. A user should not spend much energy and time trying to understand the purpose of a symbol. If the usage of an unorthodox icon is inevitable, the related text should be placed along with it.

You can check out the following links for a better understanding

The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information by George A.Miller

Cognitive load theory, Learning difficulty, and instructional design by John Sweller

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